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COLLEGE FOOTBALL : Chris Dufresne / On College Football

No He Can't

Barack Obama might have brought about change in the White House, but there is very little chance he'll be able to do anything about the BCS

November 20, 2008|Chris Dufresne | Dufresne is a Times staff writer.

Take out a quill -- the kind Thomas Jefferson used to pen the Declaration of Independence -- and declare this:

President-elect Barack Obama will solve the Middle East crisis before he solves the Bowl Championship Series.

He'll get the polar ice caps to stop melting before he gets "sensible" people to come to a college football consensus.

It was exciting, with all the woes in the world, that Obama would take time on "60 Minutes" to campaign for an eight-team playoff.

Any president who knows there is an SEC other than the Securities and Exchange Commission is all right in my book.

We can even see bashing the unpopular BCS to win electoral votes. Obama first made his playoff plea to ESPN's Chris Berman on the eve of the election.

The next day he scored a shocking upset in Indiana, which may end up with a 12-0 Ball State team getting shut out of the national title picture.

That's political genius.

Obama told "60 Minutes" last Sunday night that he was going to "throw my weight around a little bit" in trying to force the playoff issue.

Bully for him.

Presidents have long interjected themselves into sporting matters.

Richard Nixon, a benchwarmer at Whittier College, invoked executive privilege in 1969 when, long before there was anything as odorous as the BCS, he declared that the winner of the Texas-Arkansas "Game of the Century" would be that year's national champion.

Meanwhile, Penn State finished 11-0 and didn't even get a booby "Bebe" Rebozo prize.

Penn State Coach Joe Paterno remarked four years later: "I don't know how Richard Nixon could know so much about college football in 1969 and so little about Watergate in 1973."

Theodore Roosevelt, who walked softly but had more weight to throw around than Obama, was disturbed at the brutal violence that had overtaken college football.

In 1905, 18 football deaths and 149 serious injuries prompted Roosevelt to convene representatives from Harvard, Yale and Princeton to the White House. This would lead, in 1906, to the formation of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn., which would reform the sport and later reap billions from CBS for its NCAA basketball tournament.

Unlike Teddy R., though, Obama doesn't have a dog in the BCS hunt.

The troubling part about the "60 Minutes" interview was how much Obama knew about world matters and how little he knew about college politics.

Obama sounded like the guy at the corner bar who talked a good game but didn't have all his facts.

Where were his advisors?

Obama should have called down to Tallahassee and consulted with his Chief Osceola of Staff.

With a Google search, Obama could have learned the playoff debate was decided last spring outside Fort Lauderdale.

With most university presidents adamantly opposing a playoff, BCS commissioners met to consider a modest proposal by SEC Commissioner Mike Slive, whose Auburn team in 2004 went undefeated but was left out of the national title game.

Forget about an eight-team playoff, Slive was talking about only a skirt alteration.

Slive's "Plus One" model involved seeding the top four teams in the BCS standings and adding "one" extra game after the season.

Even that idea was shot down like skeet out of sky.

The news out of South Florida could not have been any more definitive.

The commissioners announced the BCS, a controversial rankings system to determine the national title-game participants, would remain in place through the games of 2014.

They said the next television deal would be negotiated with this understanding.

It was in all the papers, including the Washington Post.

This week, in fact, ESPN outbid Fox for the four-year contract rights, beginning with the 2011 games. The deal ESPN signed will be a deal that involves the BCS.

So, two days after Obama spoke to Steve Kroft, college football drifted further away from a playoff.

BCS commissioners, knowing they have more power than the president-elect on this issue, got a kick out of Obama's "60 Minutes" interview.

The Pacific 10 and Big Ten conferences, which have been partnered with the Rose Bowl since 1947, have been staunchly opposed to any kind of playoff movement that would further diminish a game that was first played four years before the NCAA was founded.

"It is good to learn that President-elect Obama is an interested fan of college football and its postseason," Pac-10 Commissioner Tom Hansen said. "A strong majority of the Football Bowl Subdivision members does not support creation of a FBS playoff, preferring the bowl system and the BCS, and we would welcome an opportunity to explain the reasons for our position at his convenience."

Obama, obviously, is a bright man.

He graduated from Columbia, a school from a conference, the Ivy League, that does not permit its football champion to participate in the I-AA playoffs.

"I have no idea how much he doesn't know about the postseason," Hansen said. "Would he insist on the Ivy League having an AQ [automatic qualifier]?"

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